Making It On Trend

Trystan Reese on Queer Activism and Parenthood

This year, we’re celebrating Pride by acknowledging the LGBTQIA+ community’s long-standing history of breaking down barriers and lifting each other up. Throughout June, we’re featuring customers who embody the reality that resilience isn’t only about being persistent—it’s also about becoming stronger than before. From building community, to fueling creativity and encouraging activism, we’re honoring the LGBTQIA+ community as a continual source of strength, evolution, and inspiration.

Resilience has been key to Trystan Reese’s work as an activist and educator, which is centered around making the world a safe and inclusive place for people to be their most authentic selves. He talked to Squarespace about the supernatural optimism that keeps him motivated, what he’s learned from navigating parenthood and pregnancy as a trans man, and why trans women of color are who he trusts to guide the queer community into its future. 

SQUARESPACE: Your work is focused on making our world a more inclusive place. How did you get your start as an educator and activist?

TRYSTAN REESE: It was actually my hunger for community that drew me to organizing work in the LGBTQ community. I was working as a professional actor and bartending at gay bars on nights and weekends, and I found myself drifting further and further away from my community. Bars bring out the worst in people—the most insecure, petty, messy versions of people show up there. A friend of mine was doing some kind of political work, and I asked him how I could get involved. I was hooked from the first phone bank, and within three weeks I was running the phone banks!

Queer organizing has taken me all over the world. I've been on the frontlines of some of our nation's biggest fights for LGBTQ liberation, working on marriage, trans discrimination, ending the death penalty, racial justice, trans fertility rights, and more. I consider myself profoundly lucky to have been invited into this movement and to be able to make this work into an actual career! 

SQSP: What motivates you to continue the work you do, especially after a challenging day?

TR: There are so many times when I feel like I've missed the mark with my work, that maybe I'm focusing my energies in the wrong direction or not doing enough. But then I get a message on social media with a newborn baby photo in it, and the sender tells me that he's a trans guy who never thought he could have a family until he heard my story. Or I'll be at the grocery store and will meet the mother of a trans kid, who shares how much their ability to support their child shifted after hearing my story. People no longer believe that a trans life is a lonely life, because I put my family's story out there. And that motivates me to keep learning and doing even better work—to honor the work of my transestors and to leave behind a better world for the trans folks who will come after me. 

My incredible kids motivate me to keep pushing forward. Outside the doors of our home, transphobia and homophobia lurk around every corner. But here, in this tiny empire of love that we've created, we each get to be seen and loved. I want the world to be a place where my kids, and everyone else's kids, can feel the same way. Every time I start to feel hopeless, I just look at their sweet faces and find the strength to carry on.    

SQSP: How do you use your online presence as a tool for education?

TR: I work hard to tell true stories about my life, using my own experiences as learning opportunities for others. Whether the people following me are parents, or trans folks, or cis allies, or white folks, I want them to see themselves in my story, and to be able to imagine more options for themselves and their communities. It hasn't been easy... the internet can be a brutally toxic place for all transgender people, especially for those who do not look like me (transgender women, Black trans folks). And I am a tender person! The hate does get to me, and I have to set up lots of shields to protect my spirit while I'm navigating the treacherous waters of the digital sphere. But I try to persevere because I am supernaturally optimistic, and fundamentally believe that change is possible. 

SQSP: What do you wish you could tell your younger self?

TR: I wouldn't tell my younger self anything. Every mistake I made was an opportunity to learn and grow, and every hard thing I experienced led me to where I am today. Events had to unfold in the way that they did, to create the life I have today. 

SQSP: You’re a proud parent of three children. What advice do you have for other current or future queer and trans parents?

TR: I never thought I could be a parent. In my mind, being a parent was a disappointing turn of events that conveyed a life of normalcy. "That's straight people stuff," I used to believe. And though I didn't choose to become a parent initially (it was foisted upon me), it has become the great joy of my life. To truly know my kids, and to have them know me, has been humbling and gratifying and terrifying. I've dug deeper into who I am, worked harder to be worthy of them, and sought more profound truths about the world than I would have ever imagined, had they not come into my life.  

So I guess I would encourage my community to be open to the possibility of parenthood. Whether you are genetically related to them or not, there are so many young people in need of love and support. And just because you don't see any parents who look like you doesn't mean they don't exist! 

SQSP: Squarespace is exploring the idea of ‘resilience as a revolution’ as it relates to pride. How does the idea of resilience factor into your definition of pride and your experience as part of the LGBTQIA+ community?

TR: I was ashamed at how I responded when I started to experience online brutality during my pregnancy. I couldn't believe how hurt I was by the comments of strangers. I thought I was strong enough to withstand it, until it came. I was also embarrassed at how little I truly understood about transphobia! I had been doing work to confront transphobia on campaigns but was wholly underprepared for what it was like to be the target of death threats. Trans women of color have been telling us about this kind of transphobia for decades, and I believed them that it was happening but didn't truly understand the toll it takes on one's spirit. 

To heal and bounce back, I have trusted the trans women in my life to lead me. They have survived everything I will ever face—and more—and should be counted on to tell our movement what we need to do to keep going. They have learned true resiliency and I will gladly follow them into the future of our movement.  

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